Hillary Clinton’s strategy to win the White House is to pander to the same groups that gave Obama his two victories. With Hispanics this means playing up Comprehensive Immigration Reform. Clinton will need Hispanics, women and the young but the group she will need the most is the most dedicated Democratic voting bloc in the country, blacks.
The GOP field is crowded and diverse. The GOP Presidential contest features two Cuban Americans (Cruz and Rubio), a black man (Carson), an Indian American (Jindal) and a woman (Fiorina). The Democratic field short of Hillary resembles the GOP crop of 2012 (old and white). This has to give Democrats heartburn that elements of their base might be pilfered this cycle.
Thus, it is more important than ever that Democrats and Clinton buttress possible losses by winning blacks. However, winning blacks is never the issue for Democrats. Getting them to turn out is. Under Obama, America’s first black President, this was never an issue but Hillary does not share Obama’s appeal in the community.
This is why last Thursday Clinton announced specific ideas that appeal to the black community including expanded early voting in every state, including weekend and evening hours over many days before Election Day and ending Voter ID Laws (good luck with that). These ideas are broadly popular in black communities but whether they get blacks to the polls in key states is another question.
The role blacks play in swing states cannot be overstated. As whites nationally and particularly in Iowa, Ohio and Wisconsin shift to the GOP Democrats must make up their losses somewhere. Black turnout gives them that option.
Consider in Ohio black turnout and Presidential results. In 2004 blacks made up only 10% of Ohio’s electorate and Bush won the state by 2.5%. In 2008 that number jumped to 12% and Obama won the state by 5% (it helped he performed better among blacks than Kerry). In 2012 blacks jumped to a historic 15% of the electorate and helped Obama win by 2%. If black turnout had not increased relative to 2008 and Romney’s margins with whites held he would have carried the state.
The same is true for Florida and North Carolina. In 2008 blacks made up 13% of the Florida electorate and Obama won by 3%. In 2012 black turnout held steady which allowed Obama to eke out a 1% win. In North Carolina, Obama carried the state in 2008 largely on black turnout. And even though black turnout increased in 2012 it was not enough to offset Romney’s gains among whites.
Such results highlight the importance of the black vote to Democrats and unlike Obama Clinton will have to work to get the black vote. According to the Census Bureau over 66% of eligible black voters voted compared to 61% of whites (later releases showed these estimates overestimated black support). Hillary is unlikely to reach such stratospheric support but she aims to try.
The Clinton camp is already investing in ground games in urban strongholds like Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit and Cleveland. Only through consistent effort is she likely to turn out black voters at high rates.
Party brass are woe to acknowledge that Clinton’s emphasis on black policy proposals may alienate her to Hispanics in the same swing states. In Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, Hispanics are a huge segment of the electorate and growing. Currently, Hispanics and blacks vote predominately for Democrats at the federal level but their remains a tension between the two groups highlighted at the local level.
In the 2015 Chicago mayoral race, black mayor Rahm Emanuel had to fight back a fierce challenge from a Hispanic opponent. While Emanuel did win in a run-ff he did so by winning almost every black and white ward and winning barely half of the Hispanic wards. If one wants an example at the federal level just consider Florida. In 2012 Obama won 96% of black support but Romney did far better among Cuban Hispanics (39%). Arguably, a Rubio, Bush or Cruz could do better on their cultural appeal.
This of course does not guarantee Clinton cannot build on Obama’s margins among blacks and Hispanics. Just it will be difficult. Obama had an appeal she will be unlikely to match. But if Clinton can find the sweet spot between America’s changing demographics and getting blacks to the polls she will become America’s first female President.